A Confession

June 28, 2011

Of late, I’ve been doing the assignments for this class backwards.  Maybe it’s because it’s summer semester and I’m pressed for time, or maybe it’s because the blogs are due the day after the responses and not the day before.  But to be completely honest, I’ve been writing my responses and then breaking them down into blog posts.  Actually, on Sunday I wrote the body of my final paper, and then I broke it down into response #3 and blogs 12-14.

I find that once I start to write, I like to get it all out in one sitting.  I might then go back and revise, but once I start writing and thinking through an idea, I like to keep going with it.  So in some ways it’s easier for me to sit down and write the paper all at once.

But that isn’t to say that I don’t like the way we worked on writing this semester.  Breaking everything down into blog posts and responses definitely made the final paper less daunting.  And I think writing is like a muscle– you improve if you work on it every day, but you strain yourself if you do all the exercise for the month on one day (the way I normally like to work).

I also think the concept of throw-away writing is important; that you can write something and you may or may not be able to use it.  I always find it frustrating when I write something that doesn’t end up being graded or seems to gain me no practical, tangible, immediate benefit.  But again, writing is a muscle.  So every time you use it, you stretch it.  I wouldn’t perform a plie combination at barre in front of an audience, but I do it in every ballet class because I know it will make me stronger so that I can perform better when I am onstage.  So too, it’s important to practice writing that won’t be published or submitted for a grade, so that when it does count, your writing will be that much stronger.

Don’t get me wrong; I still don’t like writing.  And I probably never will.  I find it frustrating that every English class requires me to practice paper-writing, because I already know how to do it well enough for my purposes, and then I just have to do a lot of busywork to get an A on a paper that nobody reads anyway, except the professor, and then only because he has to. Creative writing is better, and business writing is actually useful, but writing literary analysis papers feels so pointless.  I really don’t mean to be whining or complaining.  I’m just trying to understand why we spend so much of our time as English majors working on writing papers that nobody sees or cares about.

Blog #15

June 28, 2011

Later:

All human suffering, without a father and son having to fall in love with the same woman, without desire between a brother and sister, without kinship, or aberration, or blindness, or madness– all human suffering makes Tragedy and

All the blessings of human life, without the millionaire marrying the factory girl, without a happy marriage between a blind man and an ugly woman; without power or glory, but for Passion, the only certainty (Fernandez 9).

Macedonio Fernandez claims that The Museum of Eterna’s Novel is “The First Good Novel.”  In this passage, he pits his work against other literary greats that have been considered good novels, and asserts that these other classics fail to get at the essence of what is human “Tragedy” and what are “the blessings of human life.”

Fernandez’s first reference, “without a father and son having to fall in love with the same woman” is a reference to Sophocles’s Oedipus, who killed his father and married his mother.  I am not entirely sure to what “desire between a brother and sister” refers, but it may hint to Le Morte D’Arthur, in which King Arthur and his half-sister Morgan Le Fay had an incestuous relationship.  Fernandez continues in the vein of sexual incest–“without kinship, or aberration, or blindness, or madness” (King Oedipus blinded himself and then went mad).

“Without the millionaire marrying a factory girl”– I don’t know exactly to what this is a reference to, but it mocks the Cinderella-story narrative trope.  “Without a happy marriage between a blind man and an ugly woman” is a certain reference to Jane Eyre.

Fernandez mocks these famous and idealized narratives, because they fail to grasp the all-encompassing depth and breadth of all human suffering and all the blessings of life.  No narrative is able to encompass all of life, but Fernandez attacks these narratives for attempting to deal with the Mysteries of life and falling short.

The Museum of Eterna’s Novel is preoccupied with love that ends in death.  Fernandez claims that all the characters of a book die at the end, when the reader finishes reading and closes the book.  I would like, however, to respectfully disagree with this claim.  The characters we read about live on after we shut the book– they continue in our minds and thoughts and influence our actions.  They live in us.  So too, those we love and have lost continue to live in and through us.

I think Fernandez would find this song comforting:

Blog #14

June 28, 2011

The baroness de Bacourt (at whose unforgettable vendredis I had the honor to meet the mourned-for poet) has been so kind as to approve the lines that follow.  Likewise, the countess de Bagnoregio, one of the rarest and most cultured spirits of the principality of Monaco (now of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, following her recent marriage to the international philanthropist Simon Kautzsch—a man, it grieves me to say, vilified and slandered by the victims of his disinterested operations), has sacrificed “to truth and to death” (as she herself has phrased it) the noble reserve that is the mark of her distinction, and in an open letter, published in the magazine Luxe, bestows upon me her blessing.  Those commendations are sufficient, I should think. (Borges 88)

But are they?  The narrator employs gross exaggeration in the praise of his references—they are of “the rarest and most cultured spirits” and so forth– but neither the baroness de Bacourt nor the countess de Bagnoregio has any credentials other than her rank.  The Mme. Henri Bachelier whom the narrator vilifies has at least published the book Le jardin du Centaure (Borges 95), but we do not find that these ladies have published anything other than their approbation of the narrator’s remarks.  In fact, the countess de Bagnoregio’s husband Simon Kautzsch seems to rather have a tarnished reputation—we can only imagine what the complaints of “the victims of his disinterested operations” might be.

And further, the baroness de Bacourt and the countess de Bagnoregio are fictional.  So are the sources the narrator lists, in which Menard’s works were supposedly published.  This is not necessarily surprising—after all we are reading a work of fiction—but it leads us to question who it was that fabricated these people and sources.  Was it Borges or the narrator?  If Borges created them, then they exist in the narrative, and the narrator may be citing them correctly.  But the possibility also exists that it was the narrator who created them, in which case they don’t exist in the reality of the story, and the narrator is an out and out liar.  Of course, we have no way of telling, and so the truth of this narrative is ambiguous, but, as the narrator himself writes, “ambiguity is richness” (94).

Blog #13

June 28, 2011

Jahn also gives another standard by which to classify narrators:

A text is homodiegetic if among its story-related action sentences there are some that contain first-person pronouns (I did this; I saw this; this was what happened to me), indicating that the narrator was at least a witness to the events depicted; a text is heterodiegetic if all of its story-related action sentences are third-person sentences (She did this, this was what happened to him)” (N1.11).

This refers back to the first distinction we made in Blog #12 between the narrators of Jane Eyre and of Don Quixote.  Jane is a homodiegetic narrator, because she acts as a character in the story, influencing the events that take place.  The narrator of Don Quixote is a heterodiegetic narrator for the most part, because he exists on a plane outside of the action: he tells us what Don Quixote and Sancho did, but he does not act as a character in the story or influence the events.  However, I say that he is a heterodiegetic narrator “for the most part” because this classification can and does change (as we will see) in different parts of the story: a narrator may be heterodiegetic in some parts of a narrative and homodiegetic in other parts.

Blog #12

June 28, 2011

When we look at narrators, we usually think of them in terms of first-person narrators and third-person narrators.  However, these terms can sometimes be confusing or fail to give us a complete picture of who the narrator is.  For example, in Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre, Jane is a first-person narrator who also acts as the main character in the book.  In Cervantes’s Don Quixote, however, the first-person narrator spends most of the book telling us the story of Don Quixote and Sancho, from which he is removed.  Both are first-person narratives, but the two narrators are scarcely comparable.

The case is similar with third-person narrators.  We can have a third-person narrator like those in Jane Austen’s novels, who inserts witticisms and judgments into the text (such as in the first line of Pride and Prejudice: “It is a truth universally acknowledged that that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife”) or like that of the Harry Potter series, who does not.  The need for more precise classifications for narrators is evident.

Professor Manfred Jahn supplies us with some such classifications.  Jahn distinguishes between “overt” and “covert” narrators.  An “overt narrator” gives us information about himself and projects a voice (Jahn N1.8- N1.9).  A “covert narrator,” on the other hand, has “a largely indistinct or indeterminable voice” (Jahn N1.9).  According to this definition a first-person narrator is always overt, because he always projects a voice of some sort.  A third-person narrator, however, may be overt (like in Pride and Prejudice) or covert (like in Harry Potter).

It is important to recognize that this not merely an either/or distinction, but rather, a spectrum.  Thus, you might have two narratives that are overt, but one might be more overt than the other.  For example, the Jane Eyre is more overt than the narrator in Don Quixote.

Sometimes good things happen to good people.  Sometimes bad things happen to bad people.  But sometimes, such undeserved, misery-inducing tortures are showered upon the heads of the blameless that one’s pen (or should I say, laptop) balks at the writing.

Such was the case of the most beauteous but most unfortunate Samantha, who was off to the dentist to be drilled and filled.

Samantha’s dentist worked in Stonybrook.  Why drive to such a faraway land for such a simple procedure?  Well, the sad truth is that Samantha’s former dentist had drawn an animal snout on his surgical mask.

snout

Unable to cope with this terror, Samantha was compelled to flee to the more humane, but more remote, Dr. Fleischman.

9:25- Samantha leaves the house for her 10:45 appointment.  There is plenty of time to get there.  It seems to be a lovely day– the sun is shining and the birds are singing.  She turns on her friend’s Beach Boys CD (they had exchanged CD cases for the month) and begins to sing along.
9:28- The sun is shining a bit too strong, though, and Samantha’s air conditioner is broken due to unfortunate circumstances out of her control.  Undaunted, our heroine rolls down her windows and continues on her merry way.
10:20- Samantha cannot seem to find Elyssian Fields Road, upon which (according to Mapquest) she is to make a left and drive for 2.3 miles.   Did she miss it somehow?  Or is it somewhere up ahead?  The terrain is utterly unfamiliar to her eyes.  What to do?  Turn around, or stay on Jericho Turnpike?
To make a U-turn, or not to make a U-turn, that is the question.
Our heroine is further befuddled by the heat of the sun, which is exerting its increasingly unpleasant influence on the unshaded car below.
10:25- Our heroine decides to stay the course, in the hopes that fortune will smile upon her and she will soon find Elyssian Fields Road.
10:26- Our heroine decides to call her father and ask for directions.  She calls home, but he does not pick up.  She calls his cell phone, but he does not pick up.
10:29- Our heroine calls her mother.  Guess who else does not pick up.
10:45- Samantha, stranded and certain that she has been driving down the same street for too long, pulls into a humble PC Richards to ask for directions.  Two women in there inform her:
“Honey, you are far…. that’s at least a good half hour a way!”
“Yeah, you’re going to make a right and take this road, and it’s going to feel like it goes on forever and that you’re never going to make it back to civilization!  But don’t worry, eventually you’ll see people again.”

Samantha slowly trudges out of the store and bursts into tears.  She opens the door to her car, only to find a loathsome bumblebee crawling around on her seat.  It probably flew in from the open windows.

Samantha sobs harder.

10:50- But our heroine is as brave as she is beautiful.  She soon rallies, and turning the car around, she determines to find the elusive Dr. Fleischman or die trying.

10:52- Samantha contemplates naming the bumblebee.  Others before her, in the throes of such unbearable mishaps as she now faces, have made pets of such loathsome creatures as mice and rats.  But bumblebees, faugh!

10:53- Samantha decides against naming the bumblebee.

10:55- Suddenly a ringing of Samantha’s cell phone gives her fresh hope.  It is the dentist’s noble secretary, calling to find out where she is!

Noble Secretary: Are you coming?
The Beautiful and Unfortunate Samantha: I’m trying.  I’m just a little… completely and utterly lost. sobbing
NS: Ok… well, do you think you can make it here by 11:30?
TBAUS: “I hope so… it would help if I knew where I was going.”
NS puts the dentist on to help TBAUS out, and TBAUS starts explaining where she thinks she is.
The Elusive and Remote Dr. Fleischman: “Wait, where are you?  I can’t even find this on the map!”
If she knew where she was, she wouldn’t be lost.
TBAUS:  Ok, (deep breath) I’m on Rock Hall Road, heading North, I think.  I think I went too far East.”
TEARDF: “Oh, I found you!  Whoa… how on earth did you get way out there?!  Why, you’re a good half hour away!”
Tell me about it!

11:20- Hot and miserable, Samantha finally makes it to the dentist’s office. Worn out, but victorious, our heroine collapses into the chair and opens her mouth.

11:50- The bumblebee dies of heat stroke.  Perhaps there is some justness in the world after all.
dead bumblebee

Blog #10

June 21, 2011

I’m not sure if this blog post is really necessary, because I’m not sure if the Wishbone post counted as a post for this week or not.  If it did, then this post can carry over to next week’s count.

My Review of Don Quixote- ****

I enjoyed reading Don Quixote, and I commend the work as being revolutionary in its invention of the novel genre, its experimentation with narratology, and its use of slapstick humor.  Don Quixote‘s influence can be felt not only in later literary works, but also in modern humor such as Laurel and Hardy and The Three StoogesDon Quixote is definitely a first in many fields.

But, like all firsts, Don Quixote has not necessarily achieved the best in all the areas it created.  Slapstick humor, the novel, and narratology have all been honed and improved over the years.  In Don Quixote, the story often seems repetitive and monotonous, which is why it loses a star.  (Is fighting the sheep and getting hurt all that different from fighting the Basque and getting hurt, or fighting the windmill and getting hurt?)  The story could do with some cutting down and sharpening.

Nevertheless, considering when it was written and its influence, Don Quixote is remarkable.  (In this I differ from Borges’s assertion that Menard’s Don Quixote is better than Cervantes’s.  I contend that the faults of Cervantes’s novel are understandable considering it’s time, but would be unforgivable in a more contemporary author’s work.)

Blog #9

June 21, 2011

Our gallant Don Quixote is worthy of continuous and memorable praise—which shouldn’t be denied me, either, for all the hard work and diligence I devoted to searching out the conclusion to this agreeable history; although I’m well aware that if heaven, chance and fortune hadn’t helped me, the world would have been left without the pleasurable entertainment that an attentive reader of this work can enjoy for nearly two hours (Cervantes 74).

I have already treated with this quote in a previous blog post, but I would like to take a look at it again in conjunction with another quote that appears later in Chapter IX:

If there is any objection to be made about the turhtfulness of this history, it can only be that its author was an Arab, and it’s a well-known feature of Arabs that they’re all liars; but since they’re such enemies of ours, it’s to be supposed that he fell short of the truth rather than exaggerating it.  And this is, indeed, what I suspect he did, because where he could and should have launched into the praises of such an excellent knight, he seems to have been careful to pass them over in silence, which is something he shouldn’t have done or even thought of doing, because historians should and must be precise, truthful, and unprejudiced, without allowing self-interest or fear, hostility or affection, to turn them away from the path of truth… if anything worthwhile is missing from it [the manuscript of Don Quixote], it’s my belief that it’s the dog of an author who wrote it that’s to blame, rather than any defect in the subject (Cervantes 76).

In the first passage, the “Cervantes” character I have discussed in previous blogs engages in some rather high-blown self-praise for having researched Don Quixote.  Of course, the audience recognizes that he discovered the lost manuscript more through luck than through effort.  But in the second passage he reviles the author of the manuscript as being untruthful.  This goes against what we would typically assume– that the one who wrote the manuscript is more deserving of praise than the one who merely found it.  (The narrator didn’t even translate the manuscript– he found someone else to do that.  What, in fact, did the narrator do for this story?)

This dichotomy is compounded when we consider the reasons why the “Cervantes” character discredits the Arab author’s account.  Firstly, the narrator assumest that all Arab are liars– an assumption as ridiculous as it is false.

Next, he assumes that the Arab let his prejudice against Spaniards get the better of him, and as a result, didn’t praise Don Quixote enough.  The narrator emphasizes that “historians should and must be precise, truthful, and unprejudiced.”  Meanwhile, he himself engages in the most exaggerated praise of Don Quixote and of himself.  Don Quixote is insane and therefore not deserving of such praise, so too, the narrator has accomplished very little in bringing us this story and is also not deserving of much praise.  These lines show the narrator’s hypocrisy in letting his prejudices get in the way of his telling of this story.

Further, these lines take on yet another meaning when we consider them in light of the fact that Cervantes is the one and only author of this tale.  Thus, in the first passage, as the author, he engages in unbelievable self-praise, and in the second passage he engages in equally unconvincing self-reviling.  Reading these two accounts, we tend to believe Cervantes falls somewhere in the middle, which is probably what he intended us to think.

Unable to cope with the misery, I finally got the air conditioner in my car fixed.  In good time, too, because I’m scheduled to have my next dentist appointment this coming Friday.  Hopefully it’ll go better than last year’s escapade:

9:25- I leave my house for a 10:45 appointment in Stonybrook. (Why do I drive for hours to go to  a dentist in Stonybrook?  Because I’m insane, naturally.  The irony is that the dentist actually lives a block away from my house, so really he’s the one who is insane for working in Stonybrook.)
The air conditioner has been broken ever since I got in an accident a year earlier and the repair company failed to fix it with the other damage (which I didn’t notice at the time because the accident happened in November).  So I drive with the windows down.  Unfortunately, it’s 90 degrees, so this is still uncomfortably schmoiling.
10:45- Unable to get in touch with either of my parents and certain that I have been driving down the same street for too long, I pull into a PC Richards to ask for directions.  Two women in there start telling me:
“Honey, you are far…. that’s at least a good half hour a way!”
“Yeah, you’re going to make a right and take this road, and it’s going to feel like it goes on forever and that you’re never going to make it back to civilization!  But don’t worry, eventually you’ll see people again.”

I walk out of the store and burst into tears.  I get into my car to find a bumblebee crawling around on my seat (probably flew in from the open windows).  I cry harder.  (Have you ever noticed how much easier it is to get hysterical when you are boiling hot?)

10:50- The dentist’s secretary calls to find out where I am.  The conversation goes something like this:

Secretary: Are you coming?
Me: I’m trying.  I’m just a little… completely and utterly lost. sobbing
Her: Ok… well, do you think you can make it here by 11:30?
Me: “I hope so… it would help if I knew where I was going.”
She puts the dentist on to help me out, and I start explaining where I think I am.
Him: “Wait, where are you?  I can’t even find this on the map!”
Me:  thinking: I don’t know!  If I knew where I was, I wouldn’t be lost!
saying: Ok, (deep breath) I’m on Rock Hall Road, heading     North, I think.  I think I went too far East.”
Him: “Oh, I found you!  Whoa… how on earth did you get way out there?!  Why, you’re a good half hour away!”
Me: thinking: Tell me about it!

11:20- Hot and miserable, I finally make it to the dentist, and, thank G-d and Dr. Reichman, they take me.

11:50- The bumblebee dies of heat stroke.

Blog #7

June 21, 2011

It seemed impossible and contrary to all good practice that such an excellent knight shouldn’t have had some sage who’d have made it his job to record his unprecedented deeds, something never lacked by any of those knights errant
Who go, as people say,
Adventuring their way,
because every one of them had one or two sages, made to measure for him, who not only recorded his exploits but also depicted his least thoughts and most trivial actions (Cervantes 73).

At the beginning of Chapter IX of Don Quixote, the narrator digresses to tell us how he discovered the outcome of the fight between Don Quixote and the Basque.  In doing so, he changes from a heterodiegetic narrative to a homodiegetic narrative.  As Jahn explains:

A text is homodiegetic if among its story-related action sentences there are some that contain first-person pronouns (I did this; I saw this; this was what happened to me), indicating that the narrator was at least a witness to the events depicted; a text is heterodiegetic if all of its story-related action sentences are third-person sentences (She did this, this was what happened to him)” (N1.11).

For most of Don Quixote, the narrator appears to be a heterodiegetic narrator despite his first-person address, because he doesn’t take part in the action of the story, which is dominated by Don Quixote and Sancho.  However, at this moment in the text, the narrator switches to a homodiegetic narrative in which he centers as the one who discovers a text chronicling the rest of Don Quixote’s exploit with the Basque.  This point in the text echoes the prologue to Don Quixote, which is the only other place thus far in which the narrator addresses us homodiegetically.

This passage is also interesting because the narrator calls attention to the concept of an omniscient narrator, who knows everything and can therefore record his characters’ thoughts as well as their actions.  Jahn points out, “The fact that a heterodiegetic narrator has a position outside the world of the story makes it easy for us to accept what we would never accept in real life — that somebody should have unlimited knowledge and authority” (N1.15).  However, in Don Quixote, coming at a point when the narrator emphasizes his homodiegetic tendencies, this claim of omniscience is more difficult to swallow.  We tend rather to doubt the homodiegetic narrator’s ability to transcribe the main character’s thoughts accurately.  Once again, we are led to doubt the reliability of the narrator in Don Quixote.